Yokohama LDP Will Not Back Anti-Casino Mayoral Candidate, Supports Free Election

Posted on: July 14, 2021, 12:55h. 

Last updated on: July 14, 2021, 03:17h.

The controlling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Yokohama says it will not endorse party member Hachiro Okonogi for mayor.

Yokohama mayor campaign Fumiko Hayashi
Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, pictured in 2020, wants to bring a multibillion-dollar casino resort to the city. Her Liberal Democratic Party isn’t endorsing her, but also isn’t backing any of her challengers. (Image: City of Yokohama)

In June, Okonogi shocked Japan by announcing his intentions to run for mayor of Yokohama, ousting incumbent Mayor Fumiko Hayashi. Hayashi and Okonogi are both LDP members, but they have a major difference of opinion when it comes to casino gambling. 

Hayashi supports Yokohama bidding on one of Japan’s three forthcoming integrated resort (IR) licenses. Okonogi doesn’t. Prior to his mayoral ambitions, Okonogi was a longtime member of the National Diet’s House of Representatives. 

Along with running against one of his own party members, Okonogi’s announcement came as a surprise because of his serving in prominent roles in the administrations of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and current PM Yoshihide Suga. Abe spearheaded the process to legalize commercial casino resorts in an effort to spur tourism to Japan. Following his resignation because of health reasons, his successor, Suga, has pledged to carry on that mission.

Yokohama is one of only four cities that has entered the IR race for the three licenses. But its candidacy largely hinges on the outcome of its August 22, 2021, mayoral election.

One Pro-Casino Candidate

Roughly half of the general population in Japan is thought to oppose the legalization of commercial casinos, according to polling. Abe and Suga have used their LDP power in the National Diet to move gaming forward. 

While in the Diet, Okonogi headed the National Public Safety Commission. As chair of the agency, he became the minister of the Casino Regulatory Commission after the Diet passed its Basic Policy on casino gambling in 2018. But now, as the country inches closer to reviewing city and prefecture IR bids, Okonogi is opting to oppose such developments. 

In Yokohama, the LDP, along with its sister Komeito Party, controls 52 of the City Council’s 86 seats. 

The Yokohama branch of the LDP decided during a meeting this week that it will not endorse Okonogi for mayor. The party also won’t back Masataka Ota, another LDP candidate running on an anti-casino platform. The LDP additionally isn’t coming out in full support of Hayashi. 

Instead, the LDP chapter says it will encourage its members to vote freely. At least nine candidates are running, but only one — Hayashi — is promoting an IR.  

Fourth Terms Rare in Japan

There are no term limits for Yokohama’s mayor. But it’s been an unwritten rule that, following three four-year terms, the mayor doesn’t run again. Hayashi is diverting from that custom.

The previous mayor of Yokohama to hold the position for more than 12 years was Mayor Ichiro Asukata, who was mayor from 1963 through 1978.

He is the only Yokohama mayor to serve in the role for more than 12 years, meaning Hayashi will be only the second, should she prevail next month.

During the 2017 mayoral election, Hayashi was easily reelected by winning more than 53 percent of the vote. Only two other candidates ran against her, each roughly splitting the remaining 47 percent.